Nick Harris

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So far Nick Harris has created 35 blog entries.

RANDY MAMOLA – WHERE DO YOU START?

Never has anybody deserved that ultimate accolade of being inducted a MotoGP Legend than Randy. The problem is finding enough space to tell you why because he ticks every box apart from one.

Randy will not thank me for reminding you he is the first non World Champion to join the exclusive club but in so many ways this makes his election even more special and richly deserved. His passionate dedication to the sport, rider’s safety and the Riders for Health charity, his ability to fight back from adversity, loyalty, stubbornness, a true family man and for being one of the funniest men I’ve ever met will do for a start.

The record books can’t tell the real story. Thirteen 500cc grands prix wins, more than World Champions Marco Lucchinelli, Franco Uncini and Kenny Roberts Junior, brought him a heart-breaking runner – spot in the World Championship on four separate occasions. He was a brilliant grand prix rider who certainly ran out of luck at the wrong time and found himself racing in a golden era of rich talent especially from his very own homeland. From the moment the brash freckled faced Californian teenager arrived in Europe we knew we were in for fun and games on and off the track.

On the track I remember that first grand prix victory on a rare visit to Zolder in 1980 followed with a victory at the British Grand Prix. The much televised save of the Rothmans Honda in Italy and two brilliant wins in Assen. Off the track Randy was the undisputed World Champion leading the way in an era of paddock parties, wrecked hire cars and  wild Sunday night celebrations before moving on to place your life and body on the line at the next race.

In 1987 we arrived at the party town of Goiania in Brazil where the outcome of the World Championship was to be decided. Randy had won in Japan, France and San Marino and still had a slim chances preventing Wayne Gardner taking the title. It was the first ever grand prix in Goiania and the night before the first day of practice the riders, sitting round the swimming pool, were asked to judge the Miss Brazilian Grand Prix competition. We were surprised not to see Randy on the judging panel but when a freckled faced ‘lady’ appeared on the catwalk dressed to the nines with a full face of make –up we realised why.

 It was especially tough for Randy when he retired. No World Championship to celebrate and no rich rewards for his glittering career after some disastrous investments by others. He fought back in the same way he had ridden those awesome 500 cc two-strokes. Randy spearheaded the Riders for Health campaign to combat disease in Africa with the same passion and single minded approach that had made him such a great rider. He is worthy ambassador for companies involved in MotoGP, an inspirational riders mentor and does a superb job riding the two-seater providing the ride of a life time for those lucky Ducati guests. Most of all his love of the sport that has brought him such a roller coaster of emotions has never once wavered and that wicked sense of humour and fun is never far away. 

 Randy Mamola a true friend and MotoGP legend.

By | April 20th, 2018|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on RANDY MAMOLA – WHERE DO YOU START?

IT’S A LONG WAIT – 38 YEARS 344 DAYS TO BE PRECISE

My long black hair rested on my shoulders and was supplemented by an equally thick beard and the compulsory flared jeans. If you’d foreseen the technical revolution of Mobile phones and the internet you would have probably been led away to a quiet room. Nottingham Forest won the European Cup (Champions League) and Art Garfunkel’s song Bright Eyes was the bestselling record in Britain.

It seems like a long time ago and it was. To be precise 38 years and 344 days. Little did we imagine we would have to wait well over half a life time to witness another British rider leading the Premier class in World Championship racing. Once again it was Cal Crutchlow that put the previous 589 grands prix of misery for British fans to bed with his brilliant victory on the LCR Honda in Argentina on Sunday. Cal has this wonderful habit of destroying records set by the legendary late Barry Sheene. Seventeen months ago he won the MotoGP race at Brno in the Czech Republic to become the first British premier class winner since Sheene’s 1981 victory at Anderstorp in Sweden.

Sheene led the old 500cc Championship after winning the opening round on the Suzuki at a scorching hot San Carlos in Venezuela at the opening grand prix of 1979. That lead lasted for just 43 days with Italian Virginio Ferrari taking over at the front after finishing second at the second round at the Salzburgring in Austria. That was that until last Sunday.

There is now only one place for Cal to go. The Isle of Man –based Midlander has just and it’s a very big just, to win the premier class Championship to finally eclipse that desperately barren period of drought for British racing. Of course it was Barry Sheene who was the last premier class World Champion. Forty one, yes 41, years ago he retained the 500cc in 1977 after clinching the title for the first time the previous year.

It’s a mighty big ask for Cal Crutchlow but he arrives at Austin next week with a precious three points     lead over Andrea Dovizioso. He is brimming with confidence as he mixes it with the factory bikes and Cal knows that consistency is going to be the key while others both crash and win. There are 17 grands prix to go before that final round at Valencia in November.

Sheene eventually finished third in the 1979 Championship behind Kenny Roberts and Ferrari. Yes it’s a big ask but I think us British fans deserve a bit of a dream which Crutchlow ignited back in Brno 17 months ago.

I would have to grow a beard and look out those flares if that dream is fulfilled.

By | April 13th, 2018|News and Events, Nick's Blog|3 Comments

ARGENTINA PRICKED THE MOTOGP BUBBLE

The MotoGP bubble takes over your life when you are on the road. Practice, qualifying times and tyre choice plus any gossip about take potential rider moves fill your brain and conversations for three days and nights. Then it’s on to the race itself. The outside world rarely gets a look in. It has to be something pretty big and special to break in as I discovered on my first trip to Argentina.

I’d never heard of the Falkland Islands when we flew into Buenos Aires on a sunny spring morning in 1982. By the time we landed back home in Gatwick ten days later I certainly knew exactly where they were. Who can blame me and my colleague Peter Clifford for knowing nothing about a group of isolated Islands that were about to grab the headlines for many months to come.

After all we were on the trip of a lifetime. Somehow and I still don’t know how, we’d persuaded our editor that a Chez Guevara ride across Argentina into the Andes and the Chilean border was the perfect prelude to the Argentine Grand Prix. Honda provided the machines and Peter with a scoop with three RS 500s lying naked in the workshop when we went to pick up our bikes and everybody was at lunch. Freddie Spencer was due to make his Honda grand prix debut on the one of the new three cylinder two-strokes. The expected battle between the young American and the old warhorses Barry Sheene and Kenny Roberts turned into a classic.

We returned from a memorable 1000 mile road trip to Buenos Aires and the grand prix which was the opening round of the 1982 Championship. We’d seen a newspaper headline in Mendoza about the Falkland Islands but thought nothing more. Even when Barry Sheene lent me his hire car to take some colour films to the airport in order to have pictures on the front page next Wednesday I didn’t notice the presence of military transport aircraft on the runway. We were having such a great time in an amazing city although there were a few worry aspects. One evening when seeking a shop that sold cheap leather jackets we found ourselves in the middle of a demonstration. Thousands of women with placards demanding to find out what had happened to their lost sons and a large contingent of riot police armed with water cannons was a grim sight.

Away from demonstration Buenos Aires was buzzing. Great restaurants, night life and to us Brit’s not a mention of the Falkland’s. We rode our Honda road bikes to the circuit on the morning of the race. New Zealander Graeme Crosby, who had just signed a massive deal to ride for Giacomo Agostini’s factory Yamaha team, insisted on a lift with Peter before his much publicised debut. A pair of flip flops and shorts was not the ideal clothes for the occasion but this was Croz. Of course being the TT and Daytona winner it was not going to be an easy ride and on the approach roads to the parkland circuit he started standing on the rear footrests. It was obvious to me riding behind what was going to happen and of course it did. Croz lying in the middle of the road with a Honda road bike on top of him a couple of hours before his factory Yamaha debut with blood pouring from his knee.

A little bit of instant first aid and a grazed Croz arrived on time for his debut and Yamaha and Ago were none the wiser. The 32 lap 500cc race round the Autodromo was a classic. At the finish Roberts beat Sheene by just 0.67 s with Spencer an impressive third.

Racing over we rushed to the airport to catch the British Caledonian Sunday night flight to Gatwick. Good job because it was one of the last flights to fly out of Argentina to England for many a long year but still we were oblivious to what was happening. Arrival at Gatwick changed all that with the morning newspaper headlines screaming about the invasion of the Falkland’s by Argentina. We had escaped by the skin of our teeth and war was declared two days later.

For once that MotoGP bubble had been burst.

By | April 6th, 2018|News and Events, Nick's Blog|4 Comments

MR STEADY IS READY

I’m finding it hard to type with one hand because I’m being honest and have the other hand above my head. Come on; keep your hand down if at the start of the MotoGP season last year you expected Andrea Dovizioso to be challenging for the Championship going into that last Valencia round.

Like me you expected the charming Mr Steady Italian to be picking up a few podiums even poles plus at the best a win or two on the factory Desmosedici Ducati. After all some people thought he was lucky to even keep that Ducati ride ahead of his very different team-mate Andrea Iannone and his new team-mate, amid a blaze of publicity. was Jorge Lorenzo. There had been no real hint of the truly extraordinary 18 round adventure that lay ahead.

Of course Dovi has always been quick, growing up mini-bike racing on those infamous kart tracks that dot the Adriatic coast of Italy. You don’t win the 125 cc World title while still a teenager and finish runner-up in the 250 cc title chase before switching to MotoGP without oozing racing talent but was he good enough to join the great at the very pinnacle of the sport.

Early indications pointed to an impressive MotoGP career but a world title challenger, perhaps not. He won that damp British Grand Prix at Donington Park in 2009 for the Repsol Honda team but it was not until the penultimate 2016 round in the pouring Malaysian rain he secured that second win. In between he had done a great job for the Tech 3 Yamaha satellite team before joining the ailing Ducati outfit in 2013. He was the ideal person to start restoring the fortunes for that passionate Italian factory that had really lost their way after the halcyon days of Casey Stoner. They were ready to challenge for the world title once again at the start of 2017 when three times MotoGP World Champion Lorenzo arrived to spearhead their challenge- well that’s what we all thought.

So what happened to a rider that was always going to be remembered as the really nice guy? Off the track, friendly, honest and accommodating. Perhaps that was the view we also had of him on the track. We could not have been more mistaken. While Lorenzo struggled Dovi just grabbed the opportunity to show a level of raw aggression and sheer confidence his rivals and Marc Marquez in particular had never witnessed before. He was quite happy to meet the World Champion head to head in epic final bend confrontations. Those wins over the Spaniard in Austria and Japan showcased the fact he had taken that giant step from grand prix winner to serious Championship contender. It’s a step that few make.

Typing is getting easier with both hands on the keyboard after witnessing Dovi destroy Marquez once again in Qatar last week. I will not make the same mistake again.

Mr Steady – I don’t think so.

Dovi is ready and more than capable.

By | March 23rd, 2018|News and Events, Nick's Blog|4 Comments

CAMELS – NEVER

You will not believe me but I promise you we did see camels on the way to the circuit. OK it may have been over a decade ago but camels were definitely out there in the Qatar desert. Today it’s a very different story.

We assembled in the hotel lobby for our first day back at school. The new shoes still a little tight, the new trousers as always too long and the crisp white MotoGP shirts still hiding a couple of painful pins, after only being unpacked from their cellophane wrapping 15 minutes earlier.

Anything more different to a trip down the A43 to Silverstone or the road between Cowes and Phillip Island could not be imagined. No Green Man pub on the left or signs to the Penguin parade as the circuit signs give notice we are getting close. Central Doha and the road to Al Khor was more like a trip to Mars.

Massive and I mean massive glass towers filled the sky. You imagined you are in New York, Hong Kong or Dubai but no this was Doha and it’s growing before our very eyes. Extra floors seemed to be added every day and in some cases overnight, to the plethora of new skyscrapers that filled the skyline. It was windy, it was dusty with giant cranes swaying in the desert winds and then there was the traffic.

In addition to those extra floors, new roads, roundabouts and routes appeared overnight. The army of four wheel drive monsters that fight you for pole position at every traffic light, junction and particularly roundabouts lapped up the challenge. It was a nightmare just surviving.

We passed a massive railway station that no doubt will feed tens of thousands who will flock to the concrete fortress like stadiums that will host the World Cup in four years’ time. Again they just appeared overnight where there used to be sand and more sand. We passed the Pearl, a millionaire’s playground of luxury apartments before at last a diversion sign pointed to the Al Khor road and the Losail International circuit. No sign anymore of the petrol station that used to fill our hire cars for less than a fiver and the café and mosque.

Fourteen years ago when MotoGP made its first visit to Qatar on a sweltering hot 40’ Saturday afternoon this was the desert road to Losail. Today the landscape was un recognisable. The new Losail city loomed on the right, cement lorries queued to be loaded from giant mountains of white sand while the obligatory new football stadium was under construction, surrounded by clouds of dust.

I will never forget my first glimpse of the magnificent Losail circuit glimmering in the piercing sunshine surrounded by a sea of white sand 14 years ago. Once again it has all changed. Not only do the hundreds of floodlight poles signal its appearance a lot earlier but a few years ago a space ship style stadium appeared out of nowhere during the winter. It’s like a scene from Star Wars with this enormous space ship landing in the desert. I’m told it’s no such thing but actually a handball stadium but you can only dream.

Over the redundant cattle/camel grid and turn right. The entrance beckoned and the MotoGP season was about to start – Bring it on but shame about the camels.

 

By | March 14th, 2018|Nick's Blog|1 Comment